Top 12 Free Things To Do in Memphis

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Memphis, Tennessee is a city with a rich history and cultural heritage spanning music, food, and civil rights.

Free ActivityBrief Description
National Civil Rights MuseumOffers a deep dive into the civil rights movement, free on certain days.
Memphis ZooFree admission on Tuesdays to explore diverse animal exhibits.
Shelby Farms ParkA vast park offering numerous outdoor activities and scenic views.
Sun StudioIconic music recording studio with free guided tours.
Memphis Pink Palace MuseumFeatures a free-access aquarium and exhibits on Memphis history.
Self-Guided Blues TrailExplore Memphis’s musical heritage through various historical sites.
Peabody Hotel RooftopEnjoy panoramic views of downtown Memphis for free.
Levitt Shell ConcertsFree live music performances in an outdoor setting.
Beale StreetHistoric street offering a vibrant atmosphere of music and culture.
South Main Arts DistrictExplore art galleries, murals, and boutique shops at no cost.

Known as the birthplace of blues, soul, and rock ‘n roll, Memphis offers visitors an array of unique attractions and activities to discover – many of which come at no cost.

Tour the National Civil Rights Museum

Name and Location: Located at the historic Lorraine Motel, The National Civil Rights Museum is at 450 Mulberry Street in downtown Memphis.

History and Significance: Built on the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1968 assassination, the museum traces the American civil rights movement from slavery through King’s death and beyond with extensive exhibits and historical insight.

What to Expect: Visitors take an impactful journey through five centuries by engaging films, interactive displays, numerous artifacts and King’s preserved motel room as he spent his final hours before being fatally shot on the balcony.

Visitor Information: The museum is open daily aside from major holidays. General admission is $16 for adults and $14 for seniors/military. Free for children under age 6.

Located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968, the National Civil Rights Museum powerfully relays the story of the American civil rights movement. Through engaging exhibits and restored buildings, visitors can learn about slavery, the history of Jim Crow laws, the role of Rosa Parks, and the key events that unfolded within the civil rights movement. Best of all, admission to the museum is completely free. Plan to spend a few hours taking it all in.

See Wildlife at the Memphis Zoo

Name and Location: The Memphis Zoo is located at 2000 Prentiss Place in Midtown Memphis’ Overton Park.

History and Significance: Operating since 1906, today the Memphis Zoo sits on 70 acres serving as the mid-south’s premier family attraction and leading zoological institution exhibiting over 3,500 animals across three unique loop trails focusing on education and species conservation efforts.

What to Expect: Zoo explorers traverse exhibits like the Northwest Passage and Teton Trek containing tigers, penguins, komodo dragons, snow leopards, panda bears, elephants, chimpanzees, and hundreds of other mammals, birds, and reptiles in award-winning habitats.

Visitor Information: The zoo is open daily 9AM-4PM except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ticket pricing varies by age, starting at $15 for adults 12-59 years old. Discounts for seniors, military families and children.

Home to over 3,500 animals representing 500+ species, the Memphis Zoo provides an exceptional opportunity to view exotic wildlife from around the globe – free of charge. Visiting the zoo on Tuesdays allows visitors to explore exhibits spanning panda bears, reptiles, aquatics and more at no cost. Be sure to pet the stingrays and say hello to the chimpanzees. With many animals to see, the free zoo Tuesdays offer a full day of family-friendly entertainment.

Stroll Through Shelby Farms Park

Name and Location: At over five times larger than Central Park, Shelby Farms Park encompasses a massive 4,500 acres at 6903 Great View Drive North off Highway 385 in Memphis.

History and Significance: Once a working farm and cattle ranch in the 19th century, today Shelby Farms functions as one of the nation’s biggest urban parks with ample amenities supporting recreation, relaxation, and exploring the natural landscape.

What to Expect: Visitors bike, walk or run miles of trails around woodlands, wetlands, and water features plus attractions like a bison herd, restaurant, event venues, kayak and bike rentals all within the peaceful park confines.

Visitor Information: Shelby Farms is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Activities require paid permits but access and parking are free. Heart of the Park area hours vary seasonally.

At over five times larger than Central Park, Shelby Farms Park comprises a massive 1,700 acres just outside Memphis. The expansive grounds enable visitors to enjoy lakeside walks, explore wetlands, rent paddle boats, cycle the Greenline trail, and much more for free. Be sure to experience the peaceful views from Starry Nights Hill and let kids play at the Rainbow Lake playground. With ample space and activities, Shelby Farms Park makes for a perfect outdoor escape.

Tour Sun Studio

Name and Location: Sun Studio is located at 706 Union Avenue in downtown Memphis, Tennessee.

History and Significance: Established in 1950 by rock pioneer Sam Phillips, Sun Studio is considered one of the most important music landmarks in the world where early rock n’ roll was discovered with legendary artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis recording seminal tracks onsite.

What to Expect: Guests can take a guided tour of the still-active recording studio to hear stories about the origins of rockabilly and Memphis’ rise paired with audio clips of history-making songs cut on original analog equipment during pivotal recording sessions.

Visitor Information: Open daily, standard tickets are $15 for daytime tours or $22 for nighttime. Advanced booking recommended as tours routinely sell out weeks in advance.

As the celebrated recording studio where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other influential musicians came to define the early rock ‘n roll era – visiting Sun Studio makes for an iconic and free Memphis experience. The daily half-hour guided tours give visitors an inside look at the studio itself and share stories profiling the legends who recorded there. From the lobby to the recording rooms, touring the hallowed studio halls comes at no cost.

See Marine Life at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum

Name and Location: The Memphis Pink Palace Museum is located in a historic mansion at 3050 Central Avenue inside Midtown’s Overton Park.

History and Significance: Originally a private residence built in 1923, today the Pink Palace houses expansive museum exhibits operated by the University of Memphis covering science, history and culture after outgrowing its initial 1936 space as the city’s first natural history museum.

What to Expect: Museumgoers encounter intriguing permanent and temporary installations like an arctic penguin habitat, replica Phoenician merchant ship hull, human anatomy displays, dinosaur skeleton casts, live butterfly aviary and sizable collection showcasing regional archaeology and artifacts.

Visitor Information: The Pink Palace Museum is open daily 9am-5pm with until 8pm on Tuesdays. General admission is $15 for adults, $13.50 seniors/military, $10 college students with discounts for youth under 18.

Within the Pink Palace Museum, visitors can access the Memphis Sharkey Aquarium at no expense. Showcasing river otters, alligators, turtles and over 60 other species, the indoor aquarium makes an ideal rainy day destination. Visitors can also explore exhibits profiling Memphis history and culture, covering topics like technology, natural science, and more for free.

Embark on a Self-Guided Blues Trail

Name and Location: Memphis’ Blues Trail features over 20 historical sites and landmarks scattered throughout the city denoting connections to early blues musicians, venues and moments spanning 1920 to 1970.

History and Significance: These markers memorialize locations playing pivotal roles in blues music’s growth along Beale Street and beyond while highlighting institutions and individuals who profoundly shaped the genre over decades in Memphis as an epicenter birthing rock n roll.

What to Expect: Blues pilgrims can embark on self-guided tours using provided travel brochures or mobile apps to view designated addresses honoring legends like B.B. King while learning stories behind locations hosting seminal concerts, studio sessions and career moments.

Visitor Information: Memphis Blues Trail stops contain visible historical plaques. Sites are spread across the city. Printed maps available at visitor centers and online outline routes.

With Memphis esteemed as the Home of the Blues, visitors can freely uncover the city’s musical heritage by embarking on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Spanning 25+ sites – from clubs to churches – the trail highlights Memphis locations that proved integral to the popularization and preservation of the blues. Pick up a map and guide to key spots like Beale Street, WC Handy’s home, and more to immerse yourself in the soundtrack of the city.

See Pandas at the Memphis Zoo

Name and Location: Giant pandas reside at the Memphis Zoo located in Midtown’s Overton Park at 2000 Prentiss Place.

History and Significance: Ya Ya and Le Le, two Giant Pandas on longterm loan from China, have lived at the Memphis Zoo since 2003 and 2005 respectively, drawing over 12 million visitors as the only pandas in the United States not on either coast through collaborative conservation efforts between nations.

What to Expect: Zoo patrons can view the endangered black and white bears in their custom-built habitats munching on bamboo, playing with enrichment items and occasionally cuddling with one another as species ambassadors expanding public awareness to their fragile ecosystem status and funding support.

Visitor Information: Ya Ya and Le Le reside at the zoo’s China exhibit within the Gateway to Asia loop which is included with regular admission. Viewing subject to animal availability.

As part of the Memphis Zoo, the Giant Panda exhibit offers visitors the rare chance to glimpse Giant Pandas and Red Pandas in a free-to-access enclosure. Visitors can observe these cuddly creatures munching on bamboo, climbing trees, and relaxing about their habitats. As an endangered species, the chance to see pandas up-close comes at no cost and makes for an incredible zoo experience.

Take in City Views from the Peabody Hotel Rooftop

Name and Location: The Peabody Memphis Hotel’s rooftop sits on the 10th floor of the building, located at 149 Union Ave in downtown Memphis.

History and Significance: Since being rebuilt during hotel renovations in 1998, the Skyway Lounge has offered up magnificent sweeping views of downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River bending around the city from its elevated perch.

What to Expect: Patrons can take in captivating Memphis vistas up top the Peabody while enjoying sophisticated bar cocktails, beer and wine nightly from 5pm until midnight. Visitors relax in swanky mid-century style furnishings amid airy glass surroundings in an open yet intimately urban setting.

Visitor Information: Minimum age 21 after 9pm. Valid photo ID required. No cover but paid drink minimums on some nights/events, plus tipping customary for provided table service.

While staying at the elegant Peabody Hotel on Beale Street may not fit everyone’s budget, visitors can still take in the chic atmosphere and city views by heading to the rooftop observatory – no room reservation required. Ride the elevator to the top floor, then climb a spiral staircase to access the Peabody rooftop deck. From here, panoramic views of downtown Memphis unfold entirely free of charge. Snap photos and take in scenes of the riverfront and the surrounding cityscape.

See a Concert at Levitt Shell

Name and Location: Levitt Shell is an outdoor amphitheater venue located in Overton Park at 1928 Poplar Avenue, midtown Memphis’ center green space.

History and Significance: Originally built in 1936 as the city’s first public bandstand, historic Levitt Shell has hosted concerts by music greats like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Count Basie and continues spotlighting diverse community talent on its 4,500 person capacity lawn.

What to Expect: Music lovers bring blankets and folding chairs to spread out on the expansive grass field facing the curved shell structure’s stage to enjoy free concerts spanning blues, soul, indie and all genres by professional artists plus local school groups.

Visitor Information: Levitt Shell’s regular spring and fall concert series are free but require first-obtaining tickets for entry. Some special benefit shows charge admission separately.

Within Overton Park, the historic Levitt Shell hosts over 50 free concerts every year featuring acclaimed artists spanning rock, pop, blues and more. Pack a picnic and lawn chairs to settle in for free musical performances in the open-air amphitheater framed by the beautiful backdrop of towering trees. An icon of Memphis music, Levitt Shell offers visitors the chance to experience outstanding live shows at no cost from May to September.

Stroll Down Beale Street

Name and Location: Beale Street is a historic street located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, known as a significant location in the development of blues music and rock and roll.

History and Significance: Beale Street dates back to the early 1800s as an important commercial and cultural center for African Americans. Many famous musicians like Louis Armstrong and B.B. King frequented Beale’s nightclubs.

What to Expect: Visitors to modern Beale Street can hear live music booming from clubs and bars, browse unique shops, view historical markers, and explore museums detailing Memphis’s musical heritage while soaking up the lively party atmosphere.

Visitor Information: Beale Street is open daily with typical closing times between 2-5am depending on the business. No entrance fee but must be 21+ after 11 pm.

As the vibrant thoroughfare where blues music first came into prominence, taking a walk down the iconic Beale Street stands as an essential free Memphis experience. Today, visitors can wander past blues clubs, shops, and eateries while soaking up the festive musical ambience. Stop to snap photos by the Memphis Music Hall of Fame or Handy Park and imagine what Beale Street felt like during its early 20th century heyday – when trailblazing musicians like Handy and B.B. King got their start.

See Art at South Main

Name and Location: South Main stretches along South Main Street located in the South Main Historic Arts District of downtown Memphis.

History and Significance: Anchored by long-running galleries dating back to the 1970s/80s like David Lusk Gallery and Dixe Dozier, today South Main encompasses over a dozen contemporary fine art spaces, boutiques and lounges continuing downtown Memphis’ arts legacy.

What to Expect: Art lovers can freely browse cutting-edge and more accessible collections while chatting with gallery owners, artists-in-residence across a walkable six block cluster of vibrant adaptive reused spaces and stately brick facades harboring creativity.

Visitor Information: South Main features public art and activated alleys beyond its storefronts. Galleries operate varied days/hours but most open late on the South Main Art Trolley’s first Friday evening monthly gallery hops.

Home to multiple galleries and over 50 boutique shops, the South Main Arts District delivers an array of free sights centering around visual arts. Visitors can stop by galleries like David Lusk Gallery or Venues Art Gallery to take in compelling contemporary exhibits and open art nights. The neighborhood also boasts colorful murals, the “I Love Memphis” sign, and walkable parks – allowing visitors to easily fill an afternoon immersed in culture and art at no cost.

With free museum entry days, expansive public parks, and historical sites – Memphis offers plenty of compelling attractions and activities to experience without spending a dime. From blues heritage to dolphin shows – budget-conscious travelers can readily fill their itineraries with this selection of top free things to do in Memphis.

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